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The Responsibility of Storytellers

Storytellers

This post is written by: Trish Garrity

At the heart of communities there is always a story and a trusted individual carrying it forward. Spanning generations, stories have the power to inspire us, change us, and educate us beyond what we know to where we must go. For the storyteller, crafting the right tone and narrative can take time to build because one must always be aware of the responsibility of carrying the words of another.

In my line of storytelling, there is a double responsibility—to the subject who trusts us with their words, and to what end will we apply them. Storytelling for change is a theory proven by organizers around the world—empowering individuals to share their stories as an entry point to creating and uniting us in a shared voice. At Fenton, we take our stories one step further—to action.

Carrying another’s words was never more real to me then when I visited Mabopane Township, South Africa in August 2015. Traveling for Johnson & Johnson’s Worldwide Corporate Contributions division, I visited clinics interviewing participants in the mobile health program MonConnect, celebrating its one-year anniversary.

MomConnect is a partnership between Johnson & Johnson, the National Department of Health and 50 organizations to empower pregnant woman with resources during and after their pregnancy through free SMS messages. Returning to the clinic of the program’s launch in 2014, the National Department of Health had figures to demonstrate the promise for change they made a year prior:

  • Almost 1 in every 2 pregnant women are registered with MomConnect
  • Over 500,000 women are currently enrolled in the program
  • Almost 34,000 health workers have been trained to register patients

I witnessed firsthand the program that was changing the game of technology in a real way for women’s health. Our first morning, we visited KT Motubatse Clinic before the celebrations of the afternoon. Crowded already at 7:45am, I sat in a small examination room doing what every storyteller must do best—listening. Hearing the stories of midwives, counselors, new mothers, and pregnant women brought into focus how through technology, the power of health was being placed in the hand of every woman.

Mothers2Mothers

Photo Credit: Trish Garrity

The responsibility of my visit’s purpose realized when a new mother entered the room, walking slowly while carrying a small newborn wrapped in layers of white and yellow fleece in her arms. As we began setting up to film, she stated her name and her town; gesturing to the sleeping bundle in her arms she explained she gave birth to her son only four days prior. Our team drew back in awe, amazed and thanking her for speaking with us so shortly after giving birth.

As the set up continued, our director adjusted the lighting and asked her to shift in her chair. Though clearly in discomfort, she did as he asked. As I reached to help, she calmly settled back into her chair and looked me directly in the eye to say, “We must be strong, yes?”

Taken aback by the honest strength brimming from her eyes, I agreed, nodding and drawing back to resume my preparation for the interview. We completed three days of interviews, our work going on to inform decisions and opportunities for our client to further support mHealth programs that create lasting change for the health of women.

I left South Africa with one woman’s five words ringing in my mind. As storytellers, we are gifted with rare insights and truths from those who confide us. Witnessing the strength of one moment from one individual reminded me that it is also our strength to bare the responsibility of making those moments count, treating those moments, those words, those individuals with the dignity they each deserve.

The power of one’s woman strength still carries me to do more to increase awareness of maternal health, and to amplify a unifying truth we share—the raw strength women carry inside them. When provided the resources and tools to live healthy lives, women rise to the occasion for themselves, their families, and their communities. As the storyteller, this is the story I take responsibility for and I tell with pride every day.

 

 

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Fenton is a social change communications agency. We use the power of stories, media and technology to make the world a better place. Our clients are nonprofits, foundations and companies pioneering true sustainability. Our campaigns change behavior, advance policy, build communities and transform thinking. using a range of communications tools—pr, advertising, social media, video, design, research and everything in between—we build campaigns that create lasting change.

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